Conversion Rate OptimizationDesignResearch

How the Buying Decision Process applies to credit union website design

By July 12, 2017September 12th, 2020No Comments


If you build it, they will come. This is the prevailing philosophy behind corn field baseball ghosts and credit union website design. Unfortunately, there’s no clever motto from a beloved cinematic classic that explains how to turn website visitors into customers. Luckily, there is a time-tested model of consumer behavior that can help you make sense of your customers’ buying decisions. Using this model, your credit union website design (or haunted baseball field) will engage, help, and convert more users.


The Buying Decision Process

Let’s get one thing out of the way: there’s no such thing as a completely rational consumer. Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon argues that humans make decisions within the limitations of bounded rationality. We simply don’t have the time, information or mental strength to make economic decisions that are 100% rational. Plus, not being robots means we’re influenced by emotions; in fact, research shows that emotions play vital role in decision-making.

While customers don’t make purely logical decisions based only on facts and probabilities, they do go through a subconscious process known as the Buying Decision Process.


What evidence supports the legitimacy of the buying decision process?

The Buying Decision Process, first identified by John Dewey in 1910’s How We Think, has been investigated by psychologists, neuroscientists and everyone in-between. It has even been studied across cultures and technologies. Though customers may not always take a perfectly linear path, studies over the last 100 years show evidence for a five-stage decision process. People may be shopping differently in the 21st century than they did at the turn of 20th, but the process of making decisions has remained steadfast.


Stages of the Buying Decision Process


Need Recognition

First, customers recognize a need. Maybe it’s a new car for your sixteen-year-old daughter.  She’s a conscientious driver—but still, she’s a teenager. So, you want to buy a car that’s affordable, reliable, safe and able to withstand the typical trauma inflicted on cars by kids.

Information Search

Thanks to Google, the Information Search stage is a whole lot easier than it was during the days of library cards. Rather than scouring newspaper classifieds and pounding the pavement to gather info, customers whip out their phones and tablets to search “best cars for clumsy teenagers.” They can also gather useful information from their friends on social media.

Evaluation of Alternatives

Evaluation of Alternatives is the side-by-side comparison stage. The sporty coup may be great for Friday nights, but the used wagon might make more sense when college comes around.

Purchase Process

This is when the actual purchase takes place. It also includes the process buyers have to go through to actually make the purchase, like complete an auto loan application or enter credit card information.

Post-Purchase Evaluation

Finally, after making a purchase, feelings of satisfaction or disappointment kick in. Ever heard of “buyer’s remorse” or “brand loyalty”? This stage is when those feelings solidify. (Nowadays,  post-purchase behavior goes both ways; customers aren’t the only ones doing the reviewing. For instance, when was the last time you checked your Lyft passenger rating?)


Why does the buying decision process matter?

If the purchasing journey outlined above sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. Everyone takes the same purchasing path to make buying decisions. Don’t get me wrong—the nature and demographics of your audience are important to marketers within the context of the buying decision process—but when it comes to consumer behavior, David Sedaris said it best:  “All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.”

Black or white, rich or poor, Baby Boomers or Millennials, everyone completes the five stages of the Buying Decision Process before purchasing anything, whether it’s an iPad or an ice cream cone. If you cultivate an understanding of this ubiquitous customer journey, you can create the ideal credit union website design by providing the right content at the right time.

At BloomCU, we make a point of talking with clients about the Buying Decision Process. Inevitably, those conversations turn to sliders; you know, those carousels that have been popping up on the homepages of credit union websites for years, flashing like digital billboards in the faces of your visitors.

People come to your website for various reasons, but usually none of those reasons are to see your slider. A slider addresses your customers at the wrong stage of the Buying Decision Process. By the time they land on your site, they’re in one of two stages: Information Search or Evaluation of Alternatives. A slider is more appropriate for a customer in the Need Recognition stage, but probably not the best solution for that stage either.

When customers walk into your credit union branch, your employees don’t bum-rush them, shouting “DO YOU NEED A HOME LOAN?!?” or “WANNA BUY A CAR?!?” Instead, they probably ask something more like, “How can I help you?” This approach is so easily understood for in-person interactions, but somehow gets lost when designing a credit union website:

  1. First, discover what a member is looking for
  2. Then, you can do a much better job of helping them

The same approach that applies to in-person interactions applies to digital interactions. As Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”


Apply insights from the buying decision process to your credit union website design


Designing for Need Recognition

Just because your website visitors have probably already identified their needs doesn’t mean you can’t help them come up with one or two they didn’t think about. But you need to do it the right way. This is where personalization comes in.

Installing personalization software on your website enables you to personalize content in real-time based on data about member interests. Once you’ve collected interest data (e.g., like an auto loan page view) you can show users additional products they might want (e.g., gap insurance). Boom! Upsell.

Personalization Stats:

  • On, personalization increases conversions by 300-800% compared to non-personalized content
  • On, personalization increases interaction rates by 300-500% compared to non-personalized content

Designing for Information Search

This is the stage most folks are in when they land on your home page (at least the people who come for some reason other than logging into online banking). The best thing you can do for Information Searchers is help them find information as quickly and easily as possible using simple navigation and dynamic search options.

Because credit unions have dozens of product and services, plus dozens of frequently asked questions, designing simple navigation should be given lots of attention and careful thought. To simplify navigation, we recommend these practices and technologies:

Card Sorting

Card sorting is a type of usability study where you get real users to sort the content of your sitemap into groups. The sorting produces association analytics to help you understand how people group information.

Usability Testing

Usability testing is the practice of observing real users complete tasks on your website or a prototype thereof. The observations help you discover problems with your website and improve it accordingly.


Chatbots are a type of technology that can simplify navigation by asking for user inputs then presenting options. For example, on, a chatbot named Aurora can help a user find the ideal checking account by asking questions and showing options.

There are other chatbots even more advanced than Aurora. For instance, check out Alaska Air’s chatbot named Jenn. Jenn does natural language processing, which means you can ask her anything. In other words, your inputs aren’t as limited as they are with Aurora. Imagine a chatbot that can answer any FAQ thrown at it!

For the time being, however, Jenn’s strength is also her weakness. Occasionally, users ask questions Jenn can’t answer. Still, Jenn is an example of where AI is headed; the technology will continue to get better and better.

Advanced Site Search

People like using Google. Can you remember what the world was like before Google? Finding information was so much more difficult. Unfortunately, search technology on most credit union websites is still stuck in the dark ages and the results are pretty lame. Technology for better search is available, but credit unions haven’t given it the resources needed to produce good results.

Check out the search functionality on Search for “routing number.” The results populate as you type. Pretty cool, right?

Designing for Evaluation of Alternatives

When members and potential members are evaluating alternatives, you want your credit union to stand out as the best option. To stand out, you need to explain why your credit union is different or better. Emphasize your strengths; don’t talk just about rates unless you truly have the best rates in town.

Tip: Consumers LOVE comparison tables. Where possible, make side-by-side comparisons to simplify Evaluation of Alternatives for your users.

Designing for Purchase Process

Once a user decides to get a product from your credit union, how does she get started? Is it easy to find your application? Does your application look as appealing as an IRS tax form? If so, it’s not too late to lose your catch. Would-be buyers abandon their shopping carts all the time.

Speaking of taxes, have you ever used TurboTax? TurboTax does a fantastic job at making legal plunder (aka taxes) bearable—even delightful at times. TurboTax is a great role model for application processes.

Tip: If your application is as lovely as an IRS tax form but there is nothing you can do to improve it at the moment, you could at least ask for users’ contact info before sending them to the application. That way, you won’t completely miss the opportunity to convert the prospect.

Designing for Post-Purchase Evaluation

After people get products from your credit union, are they satisfied? Or, do they have buyer’s remorse? A great way to find out is to let members leave reviews on your website or conduct surveys with your members.

As witnessed by reviews on Google, Yelp, and Amazon, comments from other customers have a big influence on consumers, for good and bad. So, if your credit union offers great service and you’re considering putting reviews on your website, you should definitely do it! Just make sure to ask every member who has a good experience to leave a review and you’ll be in good shape because you’ll bury negative reviews with positivity. Also, if you make time to respond to negative reviews you can often turn negative experiences into positive ones.

As for surveys, consider using Net Promoter Score to measure the loyalty of your members.


Unlock Higher Engagement & Conversions

Incorporate the Buying Decision Process into your credit union website design, messaging, and technology to guide users through the customer journey. In doing so, not only will you make your members happy, you’ll also unlock higher engagement and conversions. Welcome to the field of dreams.

This article was originally published on


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